clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Cal Advanced Statistics: 2nd 121st Big Game

The Axe is Actually Coming Back to Berkeley

Colorado v California Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

I was close in predicting that the Cal defense will outscore both of the offenses. However, it was close with defense scoring 14 points to the 19 by the offense. However, 10 of those points were scored after two fumbles by the Colorado special teams unit after Steven Coutts punts.

5 turnovers

Since 2015, there were 148 CFB games that had one team with no turnovers and the opponent with four or more. 138 teams won the game—10 lost it—with the average point differential at 26.26 points (the avg. point differential for the winning teams is 28.7). Cal outscored Colorado by 12 points, putting us at 114th out of 138 teams by point differential. That’s quite the indictment that the offense generated half a standard deviation (18.13 standard deviation) less points than the expected value.


Turnovers are not counted in the S&P+ win expectancy formula. Thus, with standard turnover luck, the Cal team wins this game 27% of the time with the statistical profile. That’s not good, K.J. Costello will probably not throw two pick-6s before the Cal offense sees the field, Trenton Irwin will probably not drop two punts in his own redzone to set up 10 points for Cal. We got lucky in this game to win it—and as Frank Sinatra once sang:

You’re on this date with me

The pickins have been lush

And yet before the evening is over

You might give me the brush

Cal (64th S&P+ Ranking) vs. Stanfurd (27th S&P+ Ranking)

Cal Week 13

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Success Rate* 40.10% 92 37.20% 22
Marginal Efficiency* -5.70% 92 -8.40% 18
IsoPPP* 0.97 126 1.01 10
Marginal Explosiveness* -0.12 126 -0.11 9
Avg. FP 30.9 42 26.6 11
Pts. Per Scoring Opp. 3.59 127 4.34 48
Expected TO Margin -2.7 94
Actual TO Margin 0 71

Simple: Cal defense turns the opposing offenses into the Cal offense (sans the points per drive in the 40). Good note: the Cal special teams gives the defense a very good opposing starting position around the opposing 27-yard line.

Cal Offense (121st-Ranked Offense) vs. Stanfurd Defense (59th-Ranked Defense)

Cal on Offense, Furd on Defense

Category Cal Offense Cal Rk Stanfurd Defense Stanfurd Rk
Category Cal Offense Cal Rk Stanfurd Defense Stanfurd Rk
RUSHING S&P+ 94.4 96 102.6 62
Rushing marginal efficiency* -6.10% 61 -7.40% 63
Rushing marginal explosiveness* -0.2 119 -0.09 71
Opportunity rate* 48.90% 48 49.10% 91
Stuff rate* 17.90% 45 16.20% 108
PASSING S&P+ 86.8 121 95.9 97
Passing marginal efficiency* -5.40% 109 3.30% 108
Passing marginal explosiveness* -2.70% 122 0.1 34
Passing completion rate* 61.30% 51 62.80% 102
Sack rate* 6.80% 78 7.20% 41

Statistically, Furd’s defense is worse than the SC, WSU, Washington, and BYU defenses that Cal has faced during the season. Despite the relatively weaker pass D, I think Cal has to lean on Patrick Laird and Christopher Brown Jr. on the ground. Early in the SC game, Cal had both in the backfield (whether it was by design or the lack of WRs with Wharton’s one-quarter absence); I think this can help Cal run the ball inside and outside with Laird being a good swing/wheel/angle pass target.

In the run game, the OL needs to make sure to get to the LBs with the guards being key in sealing away the active Bobby Okereke and Sean Barton, lest Okereke find his way into the backfield for TFLs. However dangerous the Furd ILBs are, they are still miles away from the Cal IL duo. With the Cal OL having practiced against Evan Weaver and JordanKunaszyk, they will not face the same caliber of players on Saturday. The hobbled O-line, Laird and co., and Baldwin/Greatwood will need to find a way to find yards on the ground.

In the passing game, we might see a lot of fresh faces with Ben Skinner and even Monroe Young, who was injured in fall camp. However, I expect the passing game to often complement the rushing offense, by using either quick-strike play-action or screens. Patrick Laird is second in targets and catches behind Vic Wharton.

Cal’s hopes to win the game will live and die by how Patrick Laird plays the game. With 11 games in this season, Patrick Laird is 14th in touches in FBS and looks to add more this game; he’s on pace to end the season 8th.

Cal Defense (15th-Ranked Defense) vs. Stanfurd Offense (18th-Ranked Offense)

Cal on Defense, Furd on Offense

Category Cal Defense Cal Rk Stanfurd Offense Stanfurd Rk
Category Cal Defense Cal Rk Stanfurd Offense Stanfurd Rk
RUSHING S&P+ 109.3 32 94.3 98
Rushing marginal efficiency* -10.10% 29 -10.30% 109
Rushing marginal explosiveness* -0.25 7 -0.04 45
Opportunity rate* 48.40% 85 42.60% 108
Stuff rate* 18.00% 81 25.90% 127
PASSING S&P+ 114.1 11 116.6 8
Passing marginal efficiency* -6.60% 19 6.90% 9
Passing marginal explosiveness* 0.07 26 21.60% 65
Passing completion rate* 58.50% 57 65.30% 22
Sack rate* 6.70% 53 3.90% 21

Cal was able to contain the Furd rushing game last year with 101 yards on 14 carries (57 yards coming from one rushing TD, resulting in just 3.4 YPC if this run is taken away). I think with Weaver/Kunaszyk in the mix, the sputtering Furd run game will stay the same. None of the top four rushers for Furd have been efficient or explosive.

This lack of production by the Furd backfield is reflected in the lack of run game usage by the Furd. The Standard and Pass run rates for the team rank in the bottom 30 in the nation—long gone are the days of Furd’s run, run, and run again offenses of yesteryear. This pass-heavy offense still maintains a slow tempo (129th in adjusted tempo where the run-pass ratio’s tempo is compared to the expected tempo of such a run-pass ratio)

The struggle will be the super-sized WRs/TEs lead by J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Kaden Smith. Utah was successful in defending the large WRs/TEs in the red-zone; in this video by former USC/Pitt QB Max Browne, he breaks-down the red-zone pass defense against the fade to those large players.

Per Max Browne, the DBs need to use the safeties/LBs to watch the inside, but the DBs need to play the ball rather than the receiver. We might see some Chibuzo Nwokocha in the redzone in the place of Josh Drayden, Elijah Hicks, or Traveon Beck.

He also talked about utilizing blitzes by the Utes against Furd and that it could be another avenue to kill the Furd offense. Like the Utes, Cal can go man on man against the DBs and run full steam ahead towards KJ Costello.


This game is going to hinge on how well we can cover the Furd WRs/TEs and how well Cal can run the ball. Simple right?

As good as the Furd TEs/WRs have been in the past, I will take the TAKERS over any WR corps in the nation and this will be no different. It will be tough to cover if KJ Costello can hit the rebound-type passes consistently, but if the Cal pass-rush can force him to make off-platform throws, then it gives Cal a chance to fight for the ball and take away the ball.

Cal needs to run the ball and scheme ways to get Laird in and outside with the ball. Greatwood’s OL will be the stars for the Cal offense in the case of a win. However, this means the first-down run cannot be negative or stuffed—it has to yield a 4–5 yards at a time, which puts the onus on the offense to make a key play the first moment on the field.

Cal can win. Cal has a very good chance to win with this defense, which will drag any team to the level of the average 2018 Cal offense.